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PTI Govt’s Asset Declaration Scheme And Public Trust Deficit

Faisal Ali Ghumman 
The PTI government seems enthusiastically publicizing and marketing asset declaration scheme now-a-days with an aim to broaden tax base and document economy for the development of the country.
The tax payment no doubt helps the government in meeting its multiple expenditures including debt repayment and passing benefits to the citizens in the form of welfare. 
If we take a brief look at the tax culture of the country, it always seems dismal. The successive regimes have been seen convincing people from all walks of life to declare their assets and become tax filers while on the other citizens always objected over ‘cruel’ tax policies and burdening them with a series of direct and indirect taxes.
Prime Minister Imran Khan and his financial management team took part in the recently held special transmission on a news channel, responded to the queries of ordinary people and business community over the tax declaration scheme announced last month.
Majority questions appeared to be linking to general information and concerns showed by people.
The premier tried to convince the participants that the taxes collected though this scheme would be spent only on the welfare of people and development of the country. There will be no intimidation and harassment by any government agency especially the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).
A strict warning Mr Khan had issued for benami (unnamed) properties, saying such properties will be confiscated in addition to other punishments for those who fail to avail the scheme by June 30.
Since the PTI took up the reigns of government in August last year, the prices of daily consumable commodities have been rising with increased direct and indirect tax collection.
Every living soul in Pakistan is already paying multiple taxes on grocery, bills, residential and commercial properties, vehicles, services, businesses and etc.
Around 70 percent living population has apparently nothing to do with the asset declaration scheme as the poor hardly meet their both ends meet.
And If we talk about middle class income groups they usually pay taxes and declare their assets.
Now what is required on the part of Khan-led government is to tighten noose around elite and rich class for declaring their businesses and assets.
If the Pakistan Citizens Portal (a complaint system) can operate from top to bottom to redress the grievances of citizens, the tax declaration scheme can also effectively work if politicians, parliamentarians, industrialists, landlords and elite professionals be brought to the tax net in first phase.
The so far results of the scheme announced on May 15 are dismal as growing trust deficit is growing between the government and public. Citizens always fear tax machinery will further squeeze them if they declare their all undisclosed assets.
Ask any Pakistani if government spends any penny from taxes on them the answer is usually no. Secondly citizens further fear if their asset declaration continues in years to come the taxes accumulated in the national kitty would either be consumed in non-development expenditures or would go waste.
I don’t think the scheme will bear any fruit in ongoing short term measures with tight deadlines even if the government begins crackdown against undisclosed properties of people living in Pakistan or abroad. And major factors behind this failure could be inefficient and ineffective tax machinery, lack of coordination among departments and corruption.
The FBR formations already seem perturbed over the appointment of a charted accountant as Chairman FBR and don’t seem prepared for any large-scale actions.
How the people of Pakistan can willingly declare assets and pay taxes when they see leading politicians including the premier paying annual taxes worth few hundreds of thousands against their lavish living lifestyles?
In my opinion, the government needs first to control rising inflation and unbridled tariffs and revise down taxes ratio recently introduced in the federal budget 2019-20 for at least one year to make people happy and then go for long term measures like asset declaration scheme.
It’s a game of trust if something should be expected from million of citizens of Pakistan to cooperate and nothing else matters.
Side by side, the citizens also carry national and moral obligation to declare their genuine assets and pay taxes like other nations especially when Pakistan is passing through testing times of economic woes.
Faisal Ghumman

–The writer is columnist, former Editor dubainews.tv/ Ex-Editor Daily The Business and Ex-Correspondent Daily Dawn 

He can be reached at [email protected]https://twitter.com/alfaysal77, https://www.facebook.com/LahoreMirror